Many famous rock & roll clubs and concert halls
have quietly vanished from the face of the earth.
Why, it's almost as if they never existed....
but the stories about them live on.
By the time I moved to Long Island to pursue my rock & roll dreams in 1976, The Action House (50 Austin Blvd Island Park, NY) was long gone. Over the years, I had always heard tons of great stories about the place from folks who saw shows there. The Action House, which was Long Island's premier music venue from the mid-sixties to the early 70's, was indeed crucial to the development of the area's nascent local music scene in the sixties. It was perhaps the first true temple of "cool" here in suburban Long Island.
In 1966, Nightbeat, an entertainment magazine,
promoted several Freak Out shows at the club.
Lenny Kaye (rock & roll wordsmith & guitarist for the Patti Smith Band) wrote in his essay New York In The Sixties: "...the real home of the Long Island sound, as it came to be known, was a large club outside the city in Island Park called the Action House, where groups like the Vagrants (featuring Leslie West), the Rich Kids, the Hassles (with a young Billy Joe behind the Hammond) and the Vanilla Fudge indulged in all manner of baroque showmanship, complete with drummers twirling sticks, heavily-vibrato voices, ornamental starts and melodramatic stops."
From the Every Picture Tells A Story website: "Pictured clockwise from top left, Leslie Weinstein (guitar), Larry Weinstein (bass), Jerry Storch (Hammond organ), Peter Sabatino (vocals), and Roger Mansour (drums). Of course, Leslie Weinstein would go on to become Leslie West and perform in Mountain and West, Bruce and Laing, but in the mid-sixties The Vagrants and The Rascals were tearing up the New York-Long Island rock club scene with soulful, electric, and wild performances."
Here's an excerpt from a Leslie West interview on the Best Classic Bands Website:
"The Vagrants were the house band at a joint on Long Island called the Action House. Do you remember it?
Leslie West: That was the only place that we could work regularly! I remember Billy Joel was with the Hassles, and there was a group called the Illusion, another called the Rich Kids. There weren’t that many groups.
True, but they all had the same blue-eyed soul style, including your band.
They were all trying to be like the Rascals, with the Hammond B-3 organ. That’s what we were trying to do. In those days, there weren’t that many places to play. When people say, “I remember the good old days,” if you really think back, maybe there were one or two days that were really great and the rest of them were like shit. How many days were really great? I was just learning how to play then—we were making rules up as we went along.
How did the Vagrants come to record Otis Redding’s “Respect”?
We went up to Atco, Atlantic Records, in [New York City], with my manager at the time. We rented the studio and while we were fooling around, Tom Dowd, the famous producer, walked in and heard us. He said to my manager, “What label are you guys on?” My manager said, “We’re not on a label,” and he said, “What’s the matter with Atco?” We turned around and said, “Nothing.” So, he signed us. Then when I recorded “Respect,” one day I go up to Atlantic, which was on 60th Street and Broadway at the time. I get out of the elevator—I was going to pick up copies of the single. Right in front of me is Otis Redding. I started shitting a brick. There he is in a sharkskin suit and I said, “Mr. Redding, this is my group’s single, ‘Respect.”’ He looked at it and he signed it, “To Leslie with respect.” I wish I still had it. But Atco signed us by freak. We didn’t have a label. We marched around Broadway, to the Brill Building, knocking on every door trying to get a record deal. You had a demo that you did for $49. It was almost like one of those booths where you record your voice. But this is a real studio, and at the time there were groups going around recording themselves and hopefully they could get a deal out of it. We pounded the pavement and luckily, or unluckily…
How did you go from there to Mountain? That was really quite a leap.
Atlantic assigned a producer to [the Vagrants], and the producer was Felix Pappalardi. He hadn’t produced Cream yet and I see this guy coming in and he looks like Sonny Bono, with the mustache and the scarf, and I say, “Who’s this fucking guy?” But we hit it off and he did two singles with us. One of them was Beside the Sea and the other was “Sunny Summer Rain."
From The Long Island Press: "The mob-connected Action House was paying The Vagrants an exorbitant $1,500-a-night fee for a grueling 28-day-a-month schedule. This led the garage rockers to get creative with their performances. They incorporated pyrotechnics into their act, having fireworks explode as one of their songs reached its peak. One night after a performance, however, a leftover explosive wound up torching the stage along with all of the band’s instruments. This somehow did not throw them off schedule; the booking agency had them equipped with new instruments and ready to play the very next day."
Besides the pool of readily available local musical talent, the Action House also promoted shows featuring some of the era's biggest rock & roll acts. Concerts featuring bands like The Who, Mitch Ryder & The Detoit Wheels, Cream, Procol Harum, Moby Grape, Sly & The Family Stone and The Yardbirds garnered widespread attention for the club.
One event that has been well documented took place on June 16 and 17, 1967 when the Doors, who had been working at Steve Paul's The Scene club for an extended period, played a gig at The Action House when Steve Paul closed his club for three days in order to attend the Monterey Pop Festival in California. According to several sources, before the first show, Jim Morrison had the bartender line up no less than 15 shots of Jack Daniels whiskey across the bar and then proceeded to down the shots one after another before taking the stage. Mid-set, Morrison stops the show and demands that the bartender set up 15 more shots of whiskey. Soon enough, the Lizard King is well out of it and at one point of the show, begins to shed his clothing. The band hastily ends the show. The next night brings forth the shortest Doors concert ever as an extremely hung over Morrison lurches around the stage, jamming the microphone inside of his mouth and emitting long moaning and groaning sounds for an extended period of time before the remaining band members, taking pity on the audience, grab Jim's arms and drag him off the stage.
Blue Cheer Action House Ad May 1968
Rich Arfin, in Beaches Bars & B-3's, an excellent history of the Long Island rock & roll scene, sets the mood: "Throughout the 60's, the party would hang a left up Long Beach Boulevard to The Action House, so aptly dubbed. Mike Ricciardella, drummer for The Illusion, described it, "The Action House was a wild place back then. The bouncers were nuts and very wild... the parking lot was the place where the crowd hung out and got high. Inside was rock n' roll, outside was Fantasyland."
The Action House was owned by Phil Basile, who was described in a New York magazine article as "the all-time classic Island club owner." During this era, many bands and clubs were "handled" by folks who had (ahem) mob "affiliations" and it appears such was the case with Basile. After The Action House had run its course, Basile went on to open such Long Island music emporiums as Rockpile, Speaks, Channel 80 and Industry. He was also reputedly involved with managing some of the artists who appeared at The Action House, such as Vanilla Fudge and the Soul Survivors.
While searching around the web for details about Basile, I came across a page on a forum site called Topix which featured a former concert promoter speaking about his experiences with Phil Basile: "Phil owned the club. He was affiliated with some people from Brooklyn, Queens and LI who put together a consortium to buy the club. It was originally called the Shell House. It was a big catering hall. They converted it into a rock club and started having rock bands. Phil managed Vanilla Fudge and from there, he got contacts with other bands. He got a few dates with Cream and made about $20,000 in one weekend so he realized that besides managing, he should go into promotions. He trusted me since I was running all the bars and we formed Concerts East, which promoted all of the East Coast shows of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin."
Basile's backround gets even more interesting. An article on the Wikibin site reveals the following: "Phillip... was a Lucchese crime family controlled rock and roll music promoter... who was an associate of the Lucchese crime family figures Paul Vario and Henry Hill. The brother of Senator Alphonse D'Amato was partners with Basile and Paul Vario. When Basile was arrested for getting Henry Hill a no-show job at his disco, Alphonse testified on Phillip's behalf. His wife donated enormous contributions to D'Amato during election year." Sounds like an episode right out of The Sopranos, don't it? Yes indeed, one of the least discussed topics in most rock & roll history books and documentaries is exactly how much involvement organized crime has had in the workings of the popular music business throughout the sixties and seventies. One of the few rock memoirs I've read that touches on this subject in detail is Tommy James' excellent biography, Me, The Mob & The Music.
Keith Relf & Jimmy Page of the Yardbirds @ The Action House circa 1968
The Illusion @ The Action House circa 1971
In 1970, The Action House changed its name to The Rock Pile
but this club seems to have lasted only for a short period of time.
Basile quickly changed the Rock Pile’s name to Speaks which met with much more success than the Rockpile venue . Midway into the 1980's, Basile, who attempted to stay current with the youth culture in Long Island, began to lose his ability to connect with the new trends in popular music as he opened two more venues Channel 80 and Industry.
Zebra @ Speaks
The Action House marked the beginning of a vibrant music scene here in these parts but by the mid-80's, due to the advent of dance clubs featuring DJ's, many venues had closed down, thus bringing an end to what is now considered to be the golden age of live rock venues in Long Island.
A recent visitor to this blog provided new information as to the current situation of the site of the Action House: “…the former Action House building was torn down well over ten years ago. A developer owns the property and had it re-zoned residential for a small condo development. Plans were filed with the Town, but so far nothing has happened. The former parking lot across the street is now a self-storage facility.”
Legend has it that on certain summer nights...
with the wind coming off the ocean in a particular direction...
you can hear the strains of a Hammond B-3 organ
softly whistling in the darkness
This post is dedicated with much love to my buddy Les
who used to tend bar at The Action House back in the day